Preview: Conrad Johnson LP125sa Power Amplifier

Johnson has been making fine tube power amplifiers for almost 40 years now and the new LP-125sa is more evolutionary than revolutionary; borrowing from their past LP series of amplifiers and their current Art amplifiers.

However, the results are indeed stunning.  With 125 watts per channel, thanks to a quartet of KT120 output tubes, the LP125 does not sound like a vintage tube amplifier.  If the last time you sampled a CJ power amplifier was more than 10 years ago, you don’t know what you are missing.  -Jeff Dorgay

GoldenEar Technology Triton Seven Speakers

The shock of thunderous bass waves is what the GoldenEar Triton Seven speakers greet me with to start a surprising review experience. Put away your preconceived notions of what slim, budget mini-towers should sound like—these are the first such speakers that don’t prompt me to add a subwoofer, even just to see if any bass response is missing. Unless you’re trying to out-thump the teenage neighbor with the 15-inch woofers in the back of his hatchback, the Sevens provide as much bass as you could ever want from a $1,400 pair of speakers.

Thanks to their dual passive radiators, the Sevens go down to 29 Hz, which is plenty of low-frequency extension for most listeners. From the instrumental thunderclap in James Taylor’s “Gaia” and the cannons in Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” to Dire Straits’ “The Man’s Too Strong” and non-ear-bleeding hip-hop or techno dance music, these speakers easily provide the necessary weight to get the job done.

If imaging floats your boat, the Sevens flood the room with that characteristic—so much so that my small man cave (about 9 by 12 feet) isn’t quite large enough to let them breathe. In my 14-by-18-foot living room, the speakers thrive, with instrument placement that reminds me of much more expensive speakers. The individual percussion whacks of the Indigo Girls’ “Three Hits” rotate around the outside of each speaker, with the individual voices placed far left and right, and the magical harmony point placed well in front of the mini-towers.

Aerosmith’s classic “Dream On” is a stress-test song. Steven Tyler’s vocals can push many tweeters in the sub-$1,500 range into screechy crunchiness. Triton’s High-Velocity Folded-Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter keeps the high frequencies clear and dynamics strong. A testament to their driver design, the Sevens manage to keep even dense recordings well sorted.

Tech and Setup

Optimizing the Sevens takes very little effort. In my room, I achieve the best results using an equal triangular measurement, with the speakers toed-in directly to the listening position and placed four feet out from the wall. If you place the speakers too far apart, male vocals will hollow out and the center image will collapse. During setup, I suggest moving them apart a few inches at a time until you’ve gone too far, and then move them a touch closer.

With an 89 dB sensitivity rating at 8 ohms, the Sevens get jumping pretty easily. Though they thrive with the 150 watts per channel of my reference Simaudio Moon i-7 integrated, the 35-wpc Vista Audio i35 tube integrated still delivers plenty of punch though with a slightly softer presentation than the Sim. These speakers are truly amplifier-friendly, as they work equally well with class-D amps.

Standing just under 40 inches tall, 7.25 inches wide, and 10.5 inches deep, the Triton Sevens appear quite ordinary from a distance. Step up close and the first difference becomes apparent: A black grill sock topped with a shiny black plastic cap covers each speaker—no veneer or vinyl anywhere. Why the grill sock? It provides a sleek and uniform look and covers the dual passive 8-inch radiator bass drivers located near the base on either side panel. This old-school usage of the passive radiators comes from Golden Ear president Sandy Gross’s experience as cofounder of Polk Audio. The result is an impressively detailed bass response down to 29 Hz.

The two midrange drivers and the Heil-inspired HVFR tweeter are mounted in a D’Appolito mid-tweeter-mid array. Incorporating the passive radiators requires only a single third-order crossover set at 3 kHz. Other speakers I’ve reviewed with a Heil-type tweeter have a much lower crossover point, but 3 kHz works just fine in the Sevens. The speakers come with a simple but sturdy plastic base, and four spiked or rubber-tipped feet are provided, for those desiring such floor coupling.

Further Listening

Never one to shy away from testing a speaker’s limits, I play a multitude of symphonic recordings and discover that the Sevens will expose poorly recorded performances. Two versions of Gustav Holst’s The Planets aptly demonstrate this characteristic: One recording gives a muddy, undefined soundstage during the thunderous “Jupiter” movement, while the other recording is open and enveloping.

Through the Sevens, powerful vocals appear dead center and about a foot out in front of the speakers. Adele’s “Daydreamer” shows off her conversational singing style between the powerful moments, with the Sevens picking up her soft accent. On “Best for Last,” the second track of her debut album 19, there is a background chorus humming that I’ve never heard from similarly priced speakers—and the Sevens present it with ample clarity. When Adele lets loose with full-thrust vocals, these speakers don’t shrink; they stay faithful to the performance.

Getting timbre right in the listening sweet spot is one step, but getting it right off center is another level altogether. Even with the toe-in, I find reasonable timbrel accuracy in off-angle listening spots. Achieving faithful tonal character of unique vocalists is something I always look for, especially when it comes to James Taylor. Many speakers in the sub-$2,000 range either embellish his nasal sweetness or thin out his voice. The Sevens lay off the sugar just a bit, thus keeping his vocal character intact.

The Seven’s most stunning musical performance during my review comes from live small jazz ensembles. On Bill Frisell’s East/West [Live], all the characteristics mentioned above come together. The soundstage presented is a three-dimensional revelation—an audiophile nirvana experience, where the listener gets totally lost in the music. Every instrument has a place but at the same time comes from everywhere; it’s stereo reproduction at its best. For a $1,400 pair of speakers to so strongly recreate a live performance is a remarkable auditory feat.

Solo piano recordings are notorious for showing speaker flaws. The Sevens perform admirably here, producing a very natural-sounding piano. George Winston’s “Ike La Ladana” does show a bit of midrange congestion, but not as much as a pair of Totem Rainmakers, another pair of speakers in this price category with fine imaging. Other George Winston albums and songs don’t show the same level of congestion, though on a couple of occasions a slight hint can be detected.

For head bangers on a budget or limited in real estate, the Sevens will make you toss your hair with abandon. My ears fly the white flag of surrender numerous times at the 103 dB mark, while the speakers continue to provide a solid soundstage. The instrumental layering on “Stairway to Heaven” doesn’t muddy up the overall sound that the speakers present. Instead, the 5.25-inch midrange drivers create ample acoustical space without limiting the multiple instruments. Good speakers recreate the strength of individual instruments, and that is what the Sevens do consistently.

During my last weekend with the speakers, I hook them up to my 2.0 home theater setup and am not disappointed. Dialogue is clear, sound effects during car chase are well placed, and gunshots make me feel like I’m in the middle of the violence. Most importantly, I never need to reach for the remote to turn the volume up or down, as I neither strain nor feel sonically overwhelmed.

Final Tally

For speakers that do so many things well for just $1,400 a pair, one might ask what was sacrificed? The Triton Sevens don’t have the level of resolution of my reference Harbeth Compact 7ES3 speakers, but the extra 15 Hz on the bottom end earns some serious points, especially when the speakers are used in a home theater setup. The Sevens do the basics well and add in the treats of outstanding imaging and real, prodigious bass.

These are speakers that a family with myriad musical tastes can enjoy. Watch out competition: Sandy Gross has a winner in his lineup.

GoldenEar Technology Triton Seven Speakers

MSRP: $1,400 per pair

Stirling Broadcast SB-88 vs Harbeth Compact C7ES-3 Speakers

The Black Keys’ new record Turn Blue reminds me of some of the finest psychedelic tunes from the 1960s. The opening track “Weight of Love” has a very Clapton/Cream vibe. There’s something about British speakers and classic rock; they just feel right. I have used Harbeth’s Compact 7ES-3 and the Monitor 40.1 speakers as references for some time now and a few of their main characteristics seem worth noting:

First, the midrange is spectacular; second, these speakers do an excellent job retrieving the timing information from whatever music you happen to be listening to; and third, even though the 40.1 doesn’t have prodigious amounts of bass (though, with a 13-inch woofer, it’s more than adequate), it does have a lot of life.

But enough about Harbeth. (More on that later.) While that brand gets much of the British-monitor love these days, there’s another player that’s not quite as popular but that is just as interesting, if not more: Sterling Broadcast began as a company repairing and refurbishing LS3/5A and other BBC-type monitors. It soon expanded to produce its own speakers, getting the license from KEF for new drivers in order to build a version of the LS3/5A, which was very well received.

Another Classic, Updated

The SB-88 accomplishes the same thing as Stirling’s version of the LS3/5A—this time as a revamped LS/AA speaker. A two-way design with an 8-inch woofer, the SB-88 is a British monitor through and through, from the thin-walled cabinets to the basic black grille that’s nearly impossible to remove. Just like the Compact 7, this speaker performs best on a pair of 19-inch-tall speaker stands, to get the right tweeter-to-listener height.

As with the Compact 7, I suggest a very dense stand, like the Sound Anchors I currently use, to best ground the speakers, resulting in a smoother and more extended low-frequency response. In my reference system, the Devialet 110 proves a perfect match for these speakers, offering grip and control that gives them a more modern sound. When paired with a low-powered tube or solid-state amplifier, the SB-88s lean more towards the warm, wooly sound often associated with British monitors. So, choose the amplifier you want to give you the mood you seek with these—they can go either way.

While the SB-88s provide a wide frequency response, they live up to their heritage, providing a lush yet natural midrange that helps most recordings sound better than they have a right to. In the day of hyper-detailed, hyper-real-sounding speakers from YG, Wilson and Magico, the Sterling Broadcast SB-88s are a wonderful experience, almost like your favorite form of comfort food. What they lack in resolving power, they more than make up for in natural presentation. Day in and day out, they remain incredibly user-friendly and non-fatiguing. Should this be what you’ve been searching for, these are the grail. If you’d like to keep the British sound but still want a modern feel, the Harbeth Compact 7 might be more your spot of tea, as staffer Mark Marcantonio reveals on the following pages…

Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 vs. Stirling SB-88

By Mark Marcantonio
Heritage: It’s a key component to how stereo equipment is designed and how it sounds. When it comes to speakers, BBC monitors arguably have the most famous lineage. Simple, thin-walled boxes designed to be placed on stands, these types of speakers add in a sonic signature of low coloration and flat measurements, which are the basics of a successful monitor. Two companies currently epitomize the BBC design: Harbeth and Stirling.

While direct comparisons are not the norm at TONEAudio, when a pair of Stirling SB-88s arrived for review, the obvious comparison to the Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 couldn’t be helped. Possessing a nearly identical cabinet size (20.5 by 10.7 by 12 inches for the Harbeths; 19.5 by 10.7 by 11.75 inches for the Stirlings), along with similar drivers and port layouts, these speakers present instant curiosity. Even grill removal on both models calls for patience and an old credit card. Besides veneers, the biggest differences are the flat front flange, sealed back panel, and dual binding posts of the SB-88, and the slightly rounded bevel, screwed-in rear panel, and single set of binding posts of the Compact 7.

True to their DNA, both models prefer slightly shorter stands for optimum performance—in this case, the 19-inch Sound Anchors. After a weekend playing with positioning, the results for the 9-by-12-foot room were identical, sans a 1/4-inch less toe-in for the SB-88. Two other rooms were used as well: an 11-by-18-foot family room and 14-by-18-foot living room. Powering the competitors is the 150-watts-per-channel Simaudio Moon i-7 integrated amp. Sources include the Rega RP1 with Ortofon Super OM 40 cartridge and Sim Moon LP 5.3 phono pre, and a MacBook running iTunes/Pure Music paired with a Sim Moon 300D DAC.

The SB-88s resolve with a sense of intimacy. Allen Stone’s bluesy vocals in a live recording of “Sleep” ache with emotional clarity. The tightness of the acoustic guitar strokes leaves little doubt as to technique. Yet, for all the purity of high frequencies, hiss and edginess are never spotted.

The midrange of the SB-88 continues the purity of signal, which is not surprising considering the design parameters of the BBC concept. Percussion is equally tight, with obvious definition between each piece of the drum kit. The strong piano-key strokes on Trixie Whitley’s “Breathe You in My Dreams” hold their own space next to her rich and complex vocals.

But the lower registers really give away the SB-88 as a monitor. The rich layering that bass brings to so many songs just never kicks in with the SB-88. The funk classic “Fire” by the Ohio Players, with its foot-tapping bass line, gives only a hint of its existence. The lack of bottom-end has always been mini-monitor territory. No matter which of the three rooms are utilized, I’m left wanting so much more.

Interestingly enough, both speakers sound their best in nearly the same position in all three listening rooms, another nod to their lineage. However, when the music begins to play on the Compact 7s, the difference is palpable. The Harbeths bring more bass grunt and detail. Listening to music with any sort of low end through the Compact 7s is a whole different experience. The bass guitar in “Fire” resolves and thumps, matching the speaker’s 46-Hz low-end rating.

The upper frequencies of the Harbeths offer a wider imaging sweet spot, while the signal coming forth just has more of everything: detail, depth, spaciousness, etc. A sense of soulfulness is present on the Compact 7s that isn’t there with the SB-88s. Through the Harbeths, the xylophone near the beginning of Steely Dan’s “Aja” rings from the deepest regions of the speaker cabinet. And Trixie Whitely’s vocals take on a sense of aged richness, much like a fine wine.

As with the SB-88s, the Compact 7s take advantage of the space in the cabinet and that in between the speakers, but the latter speakers extend all the way to the walls. Acoustic treatments do come into play, though I find no need to reset the position of the GIK panels. The music comes to the listener rather than he or she needing to step into the musical space. There’s no need to check with head/ear position to confirm the sweet spot with the Harbeths—just sit back and enjoy the experience.

The Compact 7s reproduce two of the hardest instruments for speakers—the piano and the human voice—with a naturalness and clarity that stuns. The piano notes roll over the music like waves. Jan Gunnar Hoff’s piano on a vinyl version of his album Living cascades throughout the room. Tonal structure and timbre are beautifully accurate and as non-fatiguing as one can rightfully expect at this price point.

Listening to pre-Auto-Tune vocal performances demonstrates the additional resolution that the Compact 7s have over the Stirlings. From Ella Fitzgerald to a young Melissa Etheridge and from Dean Martin to Kris Kristofferson, the Compact 7s deliver a complete vocal performance, including the imperfections that make each singer’s voice an honest and terrific treat.

The Final Tally

While the Stirling SB-88 is a nice speaker, with all the good intentions of the BBC monitor tradition, it cannot match the broad, rich sonic experience that the Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 provides. Alan Shaw (Harbeth owner and speaker designer), the BBC monitor crown belongs to you.

Stirling Broadcast SB-88

$3,450 – $3,850, depending on finish

Harbeth Compact C7ES-3

$3,690 – $3,990, depending on finish

Penaudio Cenya Monitors

Cranking Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” to a level way beyond what I’d ever expect from a small pair of monitors causes me to redefine my mental short list for a final hi-fi system. While I routinely audition six-figure speakers (and enjoy every minute of it), the Cenya and its slightly more expensive sibling, the Cenya Signature, deliver so much music that I would happily retire with these Finnish beauties as destination speakers.

The Cenyas do everything but deliver the last octave of deep bass, and at $4,000 a pair, they leave you enough scratch to add your favorite subwoofer, should you require it. But in a small- to medium-sized room, you may not need the extra bass. These speakers are positively heavenly in my new small listening room (10 by 13 feet) powered by the Devialet 120. Penaudio speakers have always needed a little bit of juice to give their all, and the 120 watts per channel provided by the Devialet gets the job done, no matter what the musical faire. The opening bass drum beats from Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” are delivered solidly, without overhang. As the cymbals linger in the air and fade off into black, the sparkle remains potent, which leads me to believe that these little speakers move some serious air.

It’s worth noting that Devialet owners that are running the current firmware can now take advantage of their new S.A.M. (Speaker Active Matching) system, which offers phase alignment for a list of speakers, like the Cenya, custom tailored to the individual speaker.  S.A.M. also offers bass equalization/compensation in the DSP domain that extends the frequency response cleanly down to 25hz. This had just become available at the end of this review, so watch for a follow up when we’ve spent more seat time with it. The short story is that it works incredibly well. You’ll swear there is a subwoofer in the room!

My history with Penaudio goes way back to the Serenades that we reviewed in issue 4 and that ended up as my reference speakers for a couple years. I’ve always appreciated Penaudio founder Sami Pentilla’s ability to build speakers that combine understated good looks and natural tonality in a compact form. The tiny Cenya is no exception. It looks like a slice of the Serenade, with a 6-inch woofer and a 1.25-inch soft dome tweeter, and it is available in a wide variety of finishes.

This particular pair comes in the high-gloss white that was the rage at this year’s Munich High End show. Considering psychoacoustics, this may be the best color for these mini monitors, as it lets them disappear even further into my listening environment, which is painted Ralph Lauren Studio White. A knuckle rap demonstrates cabinet rigidity, which contributes to the speakers’ stellar bass response and freedom from cabinet-induced vibration.

Super Simple Setup

As with any high-quality pair of mini monitors, the Cenyas benefit from doing two things: placing them on massive stands and providing a solid coupling between the speaker and stand. Though not as attractive as the Cenyas deserve, a pair of 24-inch sand-filled Sound Anchor stands works perfectly, with a set of small Isonode feet ($19.95 for a set of 4; available from Bright Star Audio) providing an ideal mechanical interface.

The Cardas Clear Light speaker cables also work well with these speakers, but for those requiring a bit more zip and high-frequency extension, the Graditech speaker cables provide it. They prove a perfect match for the Conrad Johnson LP125sa power amplifier, while the Clear Light cables are a more balanced solution (for these ears, anyway) with the Devialet.

Final speaker placement takes about 15 minutes, with a bit of fine-tuning after the Cenyas have about two weeks of major break-in. Like all of the other Penaudio speakers we’ve auditioned, a good week’s worth of listening to dynamic music at moderate to high volume does the trick—though they do sound fabulous right out of the box.

Jah Wobble’s Japanese Dub leads the way into a long session of bass-heavy tracks that help define the low-frequency response of the Cenya2. The official specification is +/–3 dB from 45 to 28,000 Hz in an anechoic chamber, and thanks to a little bit of room gain, the Cenya 2s reproduce the 40 Hz test tone on my Stereophile Test CD with ease, though bass response falls off rapidly after this. For most musical material, this will rarely be an issue, considering the quality of the bass that the speakers produce. Again, this was all done without S.A.M. engaged on the Devialet.

A Nimble Performer

In a modest-sized room with first-class amplification, the Cenyas will spoil you. Thanks to their small front surface and high-quality SEAS tweeter, they throw an expansive soundstage that not only extends beyond the speaker boundaries but also past the wall boundaries.

When I revisit Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, it’s a pleasure to hear the nuance in his young voice and, even though the recording is only mediocre, the coherence provided by this high-quality two-way speaker makes it come to life. As with the previous Cenya iteration, the new Cenya exhibits a transparency much like an ESL. The Hammond organ at the beginning of “Kitty’s Back” remains in the air, slightly above the speakers, lingering in the room as though through my Quad 57s, but with more punch and dynamics.

The Cenyas excel at keeping the musical pace intact. The rapid-fire drum beats in Blamstrain’s “Dog Song” stay solidly anchored in the middle of some dreamy synth riffs, while the deep bass line fills the listening room without blurring the spacey presentation, until the volume is turned up well beyond a reasonable level. This is the only limitation of these petite Finns: They can only move so much air, and when pushed past their limit, they compress rapidly. However, I think anyone demoing a pair of Cenyas for the first time will be surprised at just how loud this level is.

Of course, the vocal performance of these speakers is beyond reproach. Those preferring more audiophile faire will be highly satisfied at the deftness with which the Cenyas project both male and female vocals. Whether you love Tom Waits or Shelby Lynne, the speakers deliver the goods.


With a sensitivity rating of 86 dB, the Cenyas work better with more power, though in my small room, even the 25-watt-per-channel 845 SET amplifiers at my disposal prove adequate, albeit not able to push the speakers as far as the 120-wpc Devialet can.

Regardless, the Cenyas are very tube friendly in a way that my Serenedes never were. The McIntosh MC275, PrimaLuna DiaLogue Monoblocks and the new C-J LP120sa vacuum-tube amplifiers all work well with the Cenyas, delivering great dynamics, extended HF response and good damping of the woofer cones without issue.

The Cenyas are equally versatile with solid-state amplification, from about 35 wpc on up, proving a good match with the 35-wpc Naim Qute2, the 50-wpc Rega Brio-R and the 60-wpc Pass Aleph 5—all reasonably priced yet high-performance small solid-state amplifiers.

Surprisingly, the Cenyas are transported into another world with the 300-wpc Burmester 911 MK3 and the similarly powered Pass Xs 300 monoblocks, though it is hardly likely that someone would spend $30,000 to $80,000 on amplification for a $4,000 pair of speakers—though, if you do, these little beauties are up to the task.

The $4,000 Question

If you are looking for maximum performance with minimum footprint, look no further than the Penaudio Cenyas. They will do justice to whatever ancillary components you have at your disposal and they produce way more music than you would expect from a speaker this diminutive in size. Highly recommended.

Penaudio Cenya monitors

MSRP: $4,000 per pair


Digital Source Devialet 120    Meridian Control 15    MacBook Pro
Analog Source Thorens TD-124    SME 3009 tonearm    Ortofon 2M Black cartridge
Amplification Devialet 120
Cable Cardas Clear

Burmester B10 Speakers

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to audition Burmester loudspeakers, you know they mate perfectly with the company’s electronics and that, together, they put forward a very dynamic, powerful presentation. And, as founder Dieter Burmester is a bass player in his spare time, his speakers are never lacking in low-frequency authority.

In a fairly good-sized room, pairing the hefty Burmester 911 amplifier (or the larger 909) with Burmester speakers makes for highly engaging listening. But for those of us wanting the Burmester experience in a smaller room, the B10s—which are only about 15 inches tall, 9 inches wide, and 11 inches deep—deliver just that. They fit on a pair of stands; I use sand-filled Sound Anchors in my modest 11-by-13-foot listening room.

This understated-looking pair of two-way speakers is something of a happy accident. Originally designed as personal reference monitors for Dieter’s studio, they became part of the product lineup and they make for an excellent match with Burmester’s smaller 101 integrated amplifier and 102 CD player, which we review here. With an 87-dB sensitivity and 4-ohm nominal sensitivity, the B10s are obviously geared towards Burmester amplification, but they work great in the context of any system, whether tube or solid state.

For initial break-in, I run the B10s for a few days with the Devialet 110 (now upgraded to 120 status) in my second listening room, merely swapping out the Stirling Broadcast 88-B8 speakers (also 87 dB) that have been in for review for some time. This could not have been a more night-and-day difference; it was like going from a mid-1980s Mercedes 300 turbo diesel (the Sterlings) to a current AMG C63 (the Burmesters). There’s more resolution and extension everywhere, and even though these are fairly small speakers, the signature Burmester low-end performance is there in spades.

The Burmester B10s have an MSRP of $9,000, without stands.

Initial Listening

Once settled in, my Devialet/Meridian combination goes out and in comes the Burmester 101/102 combination, which proves very interesting, as this amplifier is Burmester’s foray into class-D design—no doubt as a result of the company’s work on high-end automotive audio systems. For those already familiar with the Burmester house sound, (read: slightly warm for solid state), the 101 does not disappoint; it lacks the slight haziness and harshness normally associated with these designs.

Listening to Thomas Dolby’s “I Scare Myself,” I find that the B10s exhibit excellent pace, keeping the deep bass line firmly anchored in place, as the synthesizers float about the soundstage with plenty of width and depth. Interestingly, the B10s use a dome tweeter where the rest of the Burmester line uses a ribbon/AMT driver. Ribbons in general tend to elicit a polarized response from most music lovers, and reviewer bias admitted, it is not my favorite driver, so I find myself very drawn to the overall sound of the B10s, especially since I have a soft spot for well-designed two-way loudspeakers.

Setup is simple and straightforward. As with any compact high-performance monitor, a pair of rigid stands is a must in order to extract the best possible performance. Burmester does make its own stands, which are more attractive than my Sound Anchors, but the Sound Anchors are very dense stands and so they are a great match for the B10s. Putting the speakers on less-massive stands does, in fact, compromise bass extension and focus, so regardless of which way you go, don’t set these speakers on weak stands or you will be disappointed.

Seat Time

The more time spent with the B10s, the more comfortable I become. Expanding the musical palette reveals no shortcomings, with the only thing missing being the extremely low frequencies of large floorstanding speakers. Yet, taking advantage of the room gain in a small room, the B10s do not disappoint, even when playing tracks from Deadmau5, Pink Floyd and Mickey Hart. Though it might seem counterintuitive with a $9,000 pair of speakers, the B10s deliver more low-end heft with a larger amplifier—in this case, my reference Burmester 911 MK3, which has been in service for some time now.

Listening to the new Black Keys album Turn Blue is much freakier with the added power of the 911 driving the B10s. The fuzzy guitars come alive with more weight, bite and roundness, while the vocals seem more real and full of life. A similar experience is had with Pink Floyd’s classic album Wish You Were Here. The title track comes in with barely a whisper as the acoustic guitar spikes up, standing out clearly in its own acoustic space. The smaller 101 amplifier, though similar tonally to the 911, flattens the leading in and trailing off of sound ever so slightly, though it is still involving and something you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t happen to have a 911 hanging around.

As hinted at earlier, the B10s will work fine with vacuum-tube amplification, suggesting that they have a well-designed crossover network, though you can expect that a slightly softer sound will reflect what comes out. The 35-watt-per-channel Van Alstine Ultravalve renders a very mellow performance, per its character, while the 125-wpc Conrad Johnson LP120SA+ is much more authoritative and incredibly deep. While these comparisons offer different flavors than the Burmester amplification, the experiment is a ton of fun, turning my listening room into a fishbowl full of music—not necessarily real, but highly engaging.

Keeping It Real

The B10s rock with authority and image like crazy, but they do not present an overblown sense of perspective, preserving tone and timbre with acoustic instruments. The Jung Trio’s Dvorak Trio in F Minor Op. 65 quickly demonstrates how well these small monitors keep violin and piano sorted, especially the violin. This masterfully recorded piece is so clean that any hint of harshness in a system will be revealed instantly. The B10s pass this tough test with ease.

The subtle brushwork at the beginning of Thad Jones’ “April in Paris” is equally impressive. As Jones’ smooth horn gently glides into the mix, it’s easy to hear him move ever so slightly across the soundstage, and the B10s nail the subtle phrasing of this jazz master, delivering a very emotional experience.

Chrissie Hynde’s highly processed vibrato in the Pretenders’ self-titled debut is perfectly rendered through the B10s. Each of her breaths on the track “Private Life” comes through the mix with an exciting sense of immediacy. Shelby Lynne’s not bad either, so the audiophile whose taste leans more towards female vocalists will not be disappointed with these speakers.

Going through record after record, I find that the design and meticulous build quality that goes into the B10s (like that of every single Burmester product) is evident. These speakers may look understated and simple, but the musical result is fantastic. A perfect match for an all-Burmester system, the B10s will also mate fantastically well with a non-Burmester system. They may even pull you further into the world of Burmester.

Burmester B10 speakers

MSRP: $9,000 per pair (North American importer)


Digital sources Meridian Control 15    Burmester 102 CD Player
Amplification Devialet 120    Burmester 101    Burmester 011/911
Cable Cardas Clear

Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe

Colors, like fashions, change in such a fluid manner that at times you don’t even realize that they’ve happened.  Pretty soon everyone is wearing skinny jeans and you’re caught without.  The same could be said with the color orange.  It snuck in a few years ago on a few Lamborghinis and now it’s everywhere.  Even yours truly has a bright orange (make that Valencia) BMW and the color has really caught on – it’s a happy color.

Perhaps nothing is more happy than a 550 horsepower Jaguar F-TYPE coupe (or coup-eh, as the Brits like to call it) in Firesand Metallic.  While it is stunning on the F-TYPE convertible, the coupe takes the excitement to another level entirely.  The biggest question posed by many auto enthusiasts and critics at the launch of the convertible was “how about a proper hardtop roadster in the style of the legendary E-TYPE?”  When the Jaguar gods decided that the concept would go to production, the next curiosity was to see how close the final car would resemble the design brief.

At times, it’s best to keep your top on

The results are indeed smashing, and the coupe succeeds on every level.  It not only casts a sleek silhouette, the additional rigidity of the coupe improves on the already highly competent roadster chassis, sharpening the handling even further.  You don’t really notice it until you drive the two back to back – the hardtop really gets the nod for driving purists.

This is made perfectly clear while behind the wheel of the coupe at Willow Springs Raceway with Davy Jones (not the ghost of the Monkees, but the ‘96 winner of the 24 hours of LeMans) in the passenger seat telling me I’m braking too late, repeatedly.  Where the ragtop feels great for a convertible, with no scuttle shake, the coupe is a few major degrees more crisp, with no sense of squirm under hard braking, or making a slight course correction in the midst of a high-speed sweeper.

Serious music enthusiasts will enjoy the coupe for yet another reason: the 380-watt Meridian sound system that comes standard with the F-TYPE.  An extra 1,200 dollars steps you up to the 12-speaker, 770-watt Meridian system.  We described the system in depth in Issue 58 and concluded that with the increased cabin noise of the soft top, the upcharge for the bigger system is hardly worth it; however the coupe is a different game entirely.

The dual purpose exhaust system stays quiet while tooling around town, giving the F-TYPE the civility of a luxury sports sedan, yet when the accelerator pedal is mashed to the floor, the baffle opens, providing more than enough growl to feel sporty.  Even more so with the 550 hp, supercharged V-8.

You don’t have to drop 100k to have fun

Don’t let the evil British villains in the Jaguar commercial fool you: you don’t really need 550 hp to enjoy the F-TYPE.  While we didn’t have any of the $65,000 base model cars with a meager 340hp V6 at our disposal, the 380hp supercharged V6, priced around $75,000 with a few options is still no slouch, getting from 0–60 at 5.1 seconds and having a top speed of 172mph.  This should be good for all but those needing to leave the scene in the most fiendish manner.   Interestingly enough, the V6 felt a bit better in the convertible, even though it specs the same in the coupe and all of the auto journalists present made the same observation.

Again, the folks at Jaguar made the comparison to the iconic Porsche 911, as if it were the benchmark they are striving for.  And again, after having driven more than a few 911s since the convertible launch and now, I maintain that they are entirely different automobiles.  If I were in the income bracket to afford it, I’d have both in my garage.

Obvious comparisons

The current Carrera is more capable at the limit – and as good as the 8-speed ZF auto box is, Porsche’s PDK is still the one to beat, offering a connection to the road like no other.  When driving in more subdued situations, the Jaguar gets the nod, being way more sporty than a Mercedes SL or BMW Z4, yet more posh than the current 911.

The F-TYPE offers two driving modes, standard and dynamic. Dynamic is the more sporting mode, stiffening the suspension, altering the shift points and programing the torque vectoring more aggressively.  This innovative system feeds more power to the inner rear wheel, while gently applying braking to the outer rear wheel, offering tremendous driver control.  This was instantly evident when we took the cars out on the skidpad at Willow Springs Raceway for a brief drifting session.  When disengaged, it takes the skill of a professional driver to keep the tail in line, yet with the driver assist engaged, the F-TYPE practically defies the laws of physics, even in the wet.

Hard top or soft?

My experience has been that those loving topless motoring won’t care about most of the coolness built in to the F-TYPE coupe because the top doesn’t go down.  Where the classic E-TYPE convertible still stands as one of the most beautiful automobiles ever made, the coupe was always somewhat of a homely stepchild.  This is not the case with the F-TYPE coupe – it is easily as beautiful, if not more so, as its soft-top sibling.

Much as it is with high end audio gear, it’s tough to call a $75,000 to $100,000 car a “bargain,” though in comparison to its competitors from Porsche and Mercedes, the F-TYPE certainly offers excellent value.  And if you don’t need the prestige of an Aston Martin badge, the new Jaguar is a steal.  Having spent plenty of time in both the DBS and Vantage, I can’t see why anyone would want to shell out the extra dough for an Aston, when the Jaguar is so capable.  — Jeff Dorgay

MartinLogan Crescendo

In the years since Bowers & Wilkins introduced the Zeppelin (now the Zeppelin Air), there have been many imitators, but no one has really come close to the combination of form and function that this innovative British company started.  Until now.

I got my first glimpse of the Crescendo at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in the MartinLogan room – I thought it was a static display and I was listening to a pair of class-leading ElectroMotion speakers.  When informed that I was listening to the Crescendo, it was a revelation.  Hard to believe a desktop player could not only sound this good, but throw such an expansive stereo image.  Justin Bright, MartinLogan’s PR guy, smiled and said, “You can hook it up to one of our subs for an even bigger sound,” which had me thinking about other possibilities.

Not everyone is brainwashed by Bose.  Many want decent sound, don’t want to become audiophiles, yet sheepishly know that a Wave Radio is wrong.  They always have that guilty look in their eyes when they ask, “So what should I buy?”  Without question the Crescendo is the way to roll.  For $895 you can’t beat it.

Major tech under the hood

The Crescendo utilizes a lot of existing MartinLogan technology to work its magic.  The same folded motion tweeter design from the ElectroMotion speakers is at work underneath the grille, along with a 5×7-inch midwoofer speaker, crossed over at 3,600 Hz, so the effect is stereo up beyond that.  It works remarkably well, giving as much of a stereo impression of any of the other tabletop portables I’ve experienced.

Combining a 50-watt amplifier for the woofer, a 2×25-watt amplifier for the tweeter and a full-blown DSP preamplifier, the Crescendo produces room-filling sound with ease.  Blasting “Firehouse” from KISS 40 proves that the Crescendo is not just a pretty desktop with no guts. A long playlist of Nine Inch Nails (played at equally high volume) without damages to the Crescendo underlines its robustness.

The Crescendo is equally adept at moderate volume levels, and those enjoying more subdued fare will be just as happy as the headbangers in the audience.  The subtle, waif-like vocal shadings of Sharon Van Etten on her Tramp LP are reproduced with the delicacy required.  Equally delightful were the textured vocals in Jonsi’s GO.

Setup as easy as one, two, three – well six, actually.

There are six different ways to connect to the Crescendo:  Via WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, line level, Toslink and a standard wired Ethernet cable, so no matter what you have, you’ll be able to plug in.  I made it a point to try them all and had equally good luck.  The enclosed quick start guide is very concise and this device works as described, so no matter what level of geekiness you posess, you should be up and running in a few minutes.  The folks at MartinLogan have produced one of the best instruction manuals I’ve come across in years, so take ten minutes and read it.

As cool as this all is, the subwoofer output really adds to the Crescendo’s oomph.  Not only can you use a wired subwoofer (with a switchable crossover at 80 Hz), Paradigm’s PT-1 wireless subwoofer controller and Monitor Sub 10 make for a killer combination.  Adding an $849 subwoofer to the Crescendo might seem like overkill, but seeing I just happen to have these two items as reference components in my home theater system, it seemed like a smashing idea.  Those on a more reasonable budget might want to consider the Paradigm Cinema Sub at $349, though you do give up wireless capability.   It only took about 30 seconds of LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad” to convince me that adding the sub was a ton of fun.

For those going sans subwoofer, where you place the Crescendo will weigh heavily on its bass output. Even though you can boost the bass with the “bass mode” switch on the aluminum remote, this won’t be quite enough should you place the Crescendo in the middle of a room or on a freestanding table.  Take advantage of room and surface gain – install the Crescendo against a wall or even in a room corner if possible.   Just as you would with your favorite pair of conventional loudspeakers, experiment with position until the perfect balance between midrange clarity and bass weight is achieved.

A lovely package

The gorgeous, half-moon shape, available in black or walnut complements any décor and it fits marvelously in my little mid-century modern abode.  So much so, that I might just be keeping the review sample. As cool as the Crescendo is, I think the folks at the MartinLogan custom shop, the same skilled artisans that produce MartinLogan ESL speakers in custom finishes, should offer a hardwood upgrade for the Crescendo.  No doubt this baby is going to make its way into some stylish abodes – why not go all the way and really make it a work of art?  I’d happily pay extra for this option.

Though the MartinLogan Crescendo has a winning combination of sound quality, build quality and ease of use, it’s a truly fun experience.  Thanks to its wide range of connectivity, anyone can plug in, whether literally or wirelessly and be enjoying their music in seconds.  And enjoy it you will.

MartinLogan Crescendo

MSRP: $899.95

AURALiC Gemini 2000 Headphone Amplifier

Is the Gemini 2000 a headphone amplifier? Is it a headphone dock? Is it a DAC? Well, yes. Through the Gemini, Hong Kong-headquartered AURALiC creates a design that manages to pack all that into an attractive and great-sounding component. For those seeking a headphone-based desktop system, this AURALiC offers a turnkey package.

Headphone stand

At first glance, the most eye-catching and unique feature of the Gemini is its headphone stand, licensed from Klutz design. Standing about a foot tall with graceful curves, the stand not only looks great, but it offers a secure way to display your favorite headphones and keep them at the ready. AURALiC offers a lot of color options including a glossy white, black, yellow, blue, and the bright red of our review sample. In addition, there’s a choice of a shiny gold or silver base finish. With so many choices each prospective owner is bound to find some color combination to his or her liking.

Acting as a headphone stand, the Gemini certainly has stability and heft. The base of the unit is quite heavy, and lifting the unit makes me feel as if I’m accepting a hefty Oscar statue. The Gemini is not likely to tip over with your valuable headphones draped over it. Another really nice feature of the stand is the ability to wrap the headphone cord onto it, keeping the desktop tidy. Metal pegs at the top and bottom facilitate the process, acting in a similar fashion as the electrical cord holder on an upright vacuum cleaner.

The business end…

The stand element by itself may look impressive, but the real design feat is squeezing the DAC and amp into base of the unit, about an inch tall with 5.5-inch diameter. Each Gemini comes equipped with a 4GB SDXC card which includes Windows computer drivers, a manual, and some sample music.

The Gemini 2000 we reviewed also has a little brother, the 1000. The main difference between the two is the option of a balanced headphone output on the former, and the amount of power output. The Gemini 1000 offers 1000 milliWatts (a.k.a. one watt), and as you might guess, the 2000 offers double that. We didn’t have the opportunity to compare both units side-by-side, but I expect the 1000 would have adequate power to meet the requirements of many headphones.

The lower, narrow part of Gemini 2000’s stand offers ¼” headphone output on one side and a balanced output on the other. Those who desire a mini-output will need to use an adapter.

Tiny red LEDs grace the circumference of the base’s top, indicating the user-selected volume, input source, and file resolution. Equally diminutive buttons on the side of the base facilitate power-up and source changes, while the knurled edge of a scrolling wheel adjusts volume. AURALiC doesn’t label “Volume” as such though. Instead, it humorously claims, “Niceness.”  Moving the wheel, I have to agree with the nomenclature. Until you get used to placement of the controls be sure to bring your reading glasses because these labels are almost microscopic.


With some trickle-down technology from AURALiC’s marvelous Vega DAC, the Gemini’s DAC is capable of decoding high resolution files including CD-standard 44.1k, 48k and DSD, double DSD and DXD.

In addition to the standard USB connector, there’s the uniquely shaped digital input for Android phones and tablets.  Finally, those with a Toslink-enabled CD player or Astell & Kern player can purchase the appropriately terminated cable for connection with the Gemini. As mentioned earlier, Gemini sports a SDXC card slot, and depending on the card’s capacity, quite a bit of music can reside within the amp itself, controlled by the connected computer with included software.

Connecting the Gemini to a MacBook Pro laptop proves a breeze. After tethering the Gemini to the computer via the included USB, simply go to the System Preferences, and under the sound options AURALiC appears as a selectable option. Once done, iTunes recognizes the change immediately and diverts all sound to the Gemini. For those using Windows-based computers AURALiC provides a Gemini driver to facilitate the interface between the two machines.


Gemini 2000’s shiny base sports a class-A amp design that takes all the DAC, feeds it, and generates great sound. As with the DAC section, the amp benefits from trickle-down technology borrowed from AURALiC’s Taurus II headphone amp. Class-A circuits, in addition to great sound, generate a lot of heat and the Gemini is no exception. Seriously, if the amp remains powered up for an extended period you won’t want to handle the metal base. That’s one hot potato! Don’t worry though; it is designed to act as a heat sink and to handle the temperatures safely.


Borrowing a few pairs of headphones for this review, I had the opportunity to listen though Audeze LCD-X, Sennheiser HD-650, and others on hand. Two watts produced by the Gemini 2000 proves more than enough for the driving power needed to make all the headphones sing. Trying both the single-ended (1/4”) and balanced outputs, sound is quite similar, but with a bit more detail retrieval and bass substance though the latter.

CD-quality 44.1 KHz or 48 kHz songs render very nicely through the AURALiC. There’s never the singe of high frequency edge, and midrange portrays both vocals and instruments well. Piano, trumpet and cymbals on Enrico Rava Quintet’s “Tears for Neda” demonstrate the Gemini’s prowess with the nuances of instrumental jazz.

When listening to some rock tracks with Apple Lossless files, bass through the Gemini can appear slightly subdued. It’s not quite as robust and punchy as some other amps I’ve heard. However, what’s there is both tuneful and enjoyable. To my ears, the Gemini’s overall sound signature is well-voiced and slightly warm, focusing on the bigger musical picture more than every minute, ambient detail. Switching to the Sennheiser HD-650 reveals similar sonics from the Gemini.

Listening to higher fidelity DSD files truly gives the Gemini a chance to sing. Listening to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” with high res, the soundstage opens up, and every aspect of the musical spectrum comes further to life, bass included. Similarly, listening to the title track from Paul Simon’s Graceland on DSD offers a sonic treat. Background vocals, various types of percussion and other instrumentation float into the soundstage and with a more pronounced attack and decay. The driving guitar and bass give a sense of speed and energy to the recording, and Simon’s voice remains very upfront.

For those who have invested in DSD-quality files, you’ll definitely get more mileage out of them through the Gemini. If your digital collection does not yet have any, this amp is a very good incentive to take the plunge in purchasing a few favorite albums.

Is the Gemini 2000 right for you?

After experiencing the Gemini 2000, I find myself a fan of its modern, practical design and the very good sound it produces. Indeed, there’s a lot to love! However there are three considerations a potential buyer should be aware of. First, the Gemini is designed primarily for use in a desktop scenario. There’s no battery-powered option so the electrical tether is a must. Obviously, this isn’t the kind of portable setup you will take with you on a plane.

Second, for those who want to bypass the Gemini’s DAC and input an analog source from an iPod or a turntable directly to the amplifier, you are out of luck. The unit does not offer an RCA or a mini-jack input, so many portable sources prove incompatible with a Gemini rig. To be fair though, the Gemini’s DAC is quite good, so there’s not a lot to be achieved from bypassing it anyway.

As a last minor quibble, there’s not a manual impedance selector to help optimize the feed to a variety of headphones. While the Gemini is no slouch regardless, it’s nice to have some options to experiment with to ensure your ‘phones are giving a listener the best sound they are designed to provide.

If those caveats are no concern to you, the Gemini 2000 could become your new best friend at home or at the office. The form factor is elegant and practical, with options to match any décor or preference. The sound it offers is very good, and it pairs well with the headphones I had on hand for testing. A key benefit with the Gemini 2000 is price-performance. In the often-expensive world of hi-fi, $1,995 is a reasonably small investment. Heck, the Audeze headphones cost almost that much. For all the technology packed into this marvel the price tag is very reasonable. Trying to buy a top-of-the-line headphone stand, DAC, and amp as standalone units will cost a lot more. Do keep in mind that the Gemini 1000 costs $995, so if you need only a single-ended ¼” headphone output and can get by with less power, it might be a more economical alternative. Either way, if you seek an all-in-one solution for personal hi-fi, do yourself a favor and check out the Gemini!  –Jerold O’Brien

Further Observations

It’s rare that Mr. O’Brien and I agree on things like this, as he’s more of a “performance is everything” kind of guy and I’m more of a “but it’s gotta look cool” kind of guy.  And though we enjoy the Gemini 2000 for different reasons, I was hooked the minute I saw the cool shape.  Knowing what AURALiC has accomplished with everything else we’ve auditioned, I had a strong hunch it would sound great – and I was not disappointed.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more conversation-provoking piece of audio gear.  It looks marvelous sitting front and center on the Noguchi table in my living room with a pair of Audeze headphones perched on top.  Guests to my home always beg to play with it, and for me, that’s what the world of audio needs – more “ooh, can I touch it?”

Think of the Gemini 2000 as a headphone hookah.  Display it in a prominent place and let everyone partake!  While the performance is world class, the style points are off the chart.  Get the party started.  –Jeff Dorgay

AURALiC Gemini 2000

MSRP: $1,995

Acoustat 1+1 Electrostatic Loudspeakers

For many audiophiles, their journey with electrostats began with the legendary Quad 57—but not mine. As someone who really likes to rock, I spurned the audiophile approach and preferred to rock the house with my Altec 19s and a big McIntosh power amplifier. When our publisher Jeff Dorgay was giddy as a school girl with his first pair of Magnepans (turning his back on his beloved Cerwin Vegas speakers driven by a Phase Linear 400), I remained steadfastly nonplussed: They did not rock. I was equally unimpressed by his brief bout with a pair of Rogers LS3/5As. Fortunately, that phase passed quickly.

But one evening, Jeff bribed me with a lot of beer for helping him move a pair of Acoustat 2 speakers into his listening room. Little did I know that my life was about to change. I rolled my eyes, thinking, “Here we go again, another lame pair of panel speakers.” And on initial power up, these relatively small panels that only had about an 83 dB sensitivity rating did not impress. However, two days later, after the ESL panels were fully charged, these little Acoustats rendered music in a very interesting way, with a clarity and presence that the Magnepans just couldn’t muster and a delicacy that I had not yet experienced. They still needed a lot of power to move some air, and when these speakers were replaced with the much bigger 2+2s, I finally “got” the ESL thing—and I’ve remained a lover of the style ever since. But I tended to prefer the 1+1s, partly because they always remind me of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Charity Begins at Home

Perhaps the best thing about having audiophile buddies, especially ones that have a bit of adult ADD, is that they can’t sit still for very long, meaning there are always great deals to be had if you wait long enough. Car enthusiasts seem to be that way too. And camera enthusiasts, but I digress…

While the model 2 always seemed a bit congested and lacking in ultimate focus, with the 2+2 a little bit too round on the bottom end, my goldilocks speaker has always been the 1+1. Essentially the 2 with the panels on top of each other, rather than side by side, the 1+1 creates sonic images like few other speakers can, even today, thanks to a panel width of about 9 inches and a floor-to-ceiling height.

Back in the 1990s, I had a set of 1+1s that I paired with Jeff’s old Audio Research D79, and it was a match made in heaven in my 11-by-14-foot room. The 1+1s even generated decent bass and, just to be sure, I bought a pair of Quad 57s just to compare—not even close! Yes, the Quad has a midrange purity that is arguably tough to beat, but for this guy, the much greater low-frequency response and dynamic range of the 1+1 make it a more interesting daily driver.

Back to the Future

Driving today’s 1+1s with a pair of 100-watt Pass Aleph monos, combined with an ARC SP-11, makes for a kick-ass vintage system on a reasonable budget. Borrowing a friend’s D-79 to pair with the 1+1s brings back great memories, with a bit more romance through the midband, but the class A Pass amps make for more control and more bass wallop (not to mention eliminating the need to track down suitable tubes).

The original Acoustat ESL panel is nearly indestructible, but the power supply/interfaces are starting to have issues, mainly due to expired capacitors, with most of these speakers now over 30 years old. Thanks to speakers’ straightforward design, those handy with a soldering iron can easily replace the capacitors, and while you’re at it, take out the cheesy internal wire and replace it with a bit of your favorite premium wire from Cardas or Kimber, for a little more zip in the transparency department.

Later-model examples featured interfaces with the coveted “medallion upgrade,” improved transformers that coupled the panel to your amplifier and were wired with Monster Cable inside. Those of you with these speakers will notice that they’ve turned a nice shade of green, which is a wonderful patina for a copper roof, but not the greatest thing for an audiophile speaker.

You can send your interfaces to Roy Esposito at Audio Haven for a full refurb for about $600 a pair. We went this route and it was money well spent. Roy is semi-retired and a great guy, so don’t pester him to hurry. Let the man do his thing in peace and quiet. About a month later, your Acoustats will sound better than new, and he works on all models.

Setup of these speakers is a breeze: Move them about 3 feet from your back wall and start with the speakers about 5 feet apart; move them farther apart in 6-inch increments until the stereo image falls apart; then move them slightly back toward the center; and play with a touch of toe-in until you achieve imaging perfection.

It’s worth noting that a little bit of room treatment goes a long way with the Acoustats. I’ve always achieved the best results with some absorption right at the first reflection point, and either absorption or diffusion directly behind the panels will yield a more precisely focused stereo image. If room treatments are not an option, try moving the speakers slightly farther out in the room, however you will sacrifice a bit of bass extension by doing so.

Getting Some

If you’re looking for an alternative to a pair of Quad ESLs, I can’t suggest a pair of Acoustats highly enough, regardless of whether you have modern or vintage electronics. Unlike my other favorite electrostat, the MartinLogan CLS, the Acoustats are a bit easier to drive with tube electronics, but you sacrifice some of the CLS’s ultimate resolving power.

A clean pair of Acoustat 1+1s, with either cream or black grille cloth, should set you back about $600 to $800. As the grille cloth (or socks, as they’re often called) is nearly impossible to find these days, try to find a pair that have not been physically damaged. Should yours be ravaged by age, dirt or even cigarette smoke, an overnight soak in the tub with a potent elixir of bleach and OxiClean followed by a spin in your washing machine’s gentle cycle will have the cloth looking much better. Experience has taught me to dry them in the fluff cycle only—you don’t want any heat. Even though the socks are made of a synthetic material, there’s no sense in taking the chance of shrinkage. Resist the urge to dye them a funky color—or not. The vintage look of these speakers is definitely part of their appeal. – Jerold O’Brien

Dynaudio Evidence Platinum loudspeakers

As the sound-level meter bounces above 105 dB during playback of the title track from Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast (and I see nods of approval from the non-audiophile buddies present to take this all in), I’m reminded that you need big speakers that can move a substantial amount of air to really enjoy this kind of music. The same can be said for Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 or Deadmau5, if Maiden is not your favorite faire. Dynamic swing and contrast is a big part of recreating the illusion of live music in your listening space, and a large pair of speakers with the appropriate amount of power gets the job done.

In the day where $200,000 speakers are becoming more and more common, Dynaudio’s top speaker tips the scale at only $85,000 per pair. Yes, yes, the word only is going to offend a lot of people, but if you happen to be in the market for a six-figure pair of speakers, this level of greatness for $85K is a bargain—it’s all relative. After living with the Evidence Platinums for some time now, I see no need to drop $200K on a pair of Wilson XLFs. And that’s enough money left over to put a new Porsche GT3 in your garage. I know what I’d rather buy.

A number of things make the Evidence Platinum speakers unique. Though they are over 6 feet tall, they carve a very small footprint in your listening room, and thanks to a wide range of wood finishes, along with piano black, they should blend in with any décor. While minimalist yet tasteful grilles are included, the precision craftsmanship of the front sculpted baffles beg them to be left uncovered. Those without large pets or small children will have an easier time leaving the grilles off.

No Limitations

Much like a high-performance supercar, the Evidence Platinums have few limitations. And just as an Aston Martin feels different from a Porsche or a Ferrari, all three cars still provide stellar performance way beyond that of normal transportation. Sticking with the automotive metaphor, the Evidence Platinums remind me of the Audi R8: a new concept that offers similar if not better performance than its contemporaries—and with a bit more style. The Dynaudios are definitely one of the most svelte large speakers around.

Having lived with Dynaudio’s much smaller Confidence C1 Signatures for a few years, I notice a striking parallel between the two speakers. The comparatively diminutive C1s, with their highly optimized front baffle, present a musical picture almost like a point source, while the massive Evidence Platinums simply disappear. In a small room at low volume, with equally high-quality electronics driving the speakers, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference, other than on the deepest low-frequency excursions.

However, in a larger room, when the sound level comes up and dynamic expectation increases exponentially, the Evidence Platinums justify their price tag. Queuing up the Stereophile test CD reveals solid bass performance at 25 Hz, which is lower than what you’ll need for most program material. Playing Mickey Hart’s “The Eliminators” at high volume confirms the measurement; these speakers can punch you in the chest—hard. The four 7-inch woofers move more air than a single 12-inch unit; yet, because of their small size, they are faster, providing mega bass with maximum tone and definition.

The Evidence Platinums make it a breeze to discern between bass players and their respective styles: The difference between a Hartke bass-guitar amp with aluminum cone drivers and a vintage Ampeg amp with paper cones is now easily apparent. This is what adds so much to the musical experience, making your music so much more immersive. And that’s what you should get when you write the big check.

Top-of-the-Line Technology

Dynaudio has left no stone unturned with the Evidence Platinums, taking advantage of the company’s top technological advancements. Relying on silk dome tweeters since the beginning, Dynaudio’s design requires a very labor-intensive process that involves shaping the fine-fabric dome and treating it with a specially formulated coating. The “Precision Coating” used throughout the Platinum range is Dynaudio’s latest refinement to that process. The higher uniformity of the dome’s shape results in a smoother high-frequency response and even more dispersion of mid and high frequencies.

This is clearly evident when comparing female vocals through the Confidence C1s and the Evidence Platinums. A quick spin of Ella and Louis Again uncloaks the difference in the timbre of Ella’s voice, which is already silky smooth and convincing when played through the C1s. By comparison, the Evidence Platinums dematerialize completely, even though they are so much bigger physically. This is truly the magic of these speakers: They vanish like a mini monitor and are transparent like an ESL, yet they have the drive of an enormous cone speaker.

The Evidence Platinums throw a soundstage that is staggeringly wide and deep, but they also get the height aspect right—probably due in part to their physical height. While playing the MoFi copy of Frank Sinatra’s Nice And Easy, I feel as if Sinatra is standing right in front of the speakers, with his voice coming from where his mouth would be.

Custom drivers, check. Precision optimized crossover network, check. Premium electrical and mechanical parts throughout, check. The combination of all these technologies is certainly present in most flagship loudspeakers, but Dynaudio’s DDC (Dynaudio Directivity Control) system is the heart of what makes these speakers perform the way they do.

The combination of the finely shaped front baffle, driver placement and matching the phase response of the individual drivers makes for a more focused dispersion pattern that does not require nearly as much room treatment to sound their best as do many large speaker systems. This is all trickle-down technology from Dynaudio’s professional division, taking advantage of what the company has learned building studio monitors.

Another benefit of this optimization is the ease of setting up the Evidence Platinums. We’ve spent hours (sometimes a day or more) to get reference-caliber speakers to sound their best. The Evidence Platinums sound great right out of their crates before much attention is paid to positioning. About an hour’s worth of fine-tuning brings the speakers to the point where, when Dynaudio USA’s Michael Manousselis stops by to check my work, he merely makes a few fine adjustments and then I’m on my way. These are not finicky speakers by any stretch of the imagination. Even the machined plinth offers a choice of footers for hard and soft surfaces. Once unpackaged, the Evidence Platinums only take a few days of 24/7 play at modest volume to open up and sound their best.

Still Solid, Months Later

After listening to these speakers day in and day out for months, I am still amazed and impressed. It’s easy to get carried away with premium speakers after first listen, especially after running through a number of well-recorded audiophile classics.

This is not the case with the Evidence Platinums. I go out of my way to dredge up even the worst-sounding selections in my music collection, and these speakers do a fantastic job with any program material. There is nothing I can throw at them that trips them up. Regardless of the program material and volume level, we simply cannot drive the Evidence Platinums hard enough to invoke listener fatigue.

With a sensitivity rating of 89 dB and a crossover network of 6 dB per octave, the Evidence Platinums are very easy to drive with either tube or solid-state amplification. Even in my 16-by-25-foot listening room, more than adequate volume levels are achieved with the 20-watt-per-channel Nagra 300i integrated amplifier. I would suggest about 100 watts per channel or more for best results, especially if you like to hear your favorite music reproduced loudly.

While these speakers can reproduce some great dynamic swings, they are highly linear, with their massive stereo image still intact, even at very soft volume levels—again, not unlike a great mini monitor. Chrissie Hynde’s signature vibrato comes through clearly on the original Pretenders album. The delicacy present in “Private Life” puts Hynde in the room, right near the center of the listening position.

Coupled to the amazing Pass Labs Xs300 monoblocks, with nearly boundless power on tap, the Dynaudios really come to life. As I blast Lou Reed’s The Creation of the Universe, there isn’t a point at which the wide, vivid stereo image ever collapses—no matter how high the volume. Much like the Focal Maestro Utopia speakers that we just got done auditioning, the Evidence Platinums excel at reproducing large-scale music, especially drums and percussion—and they do so without fatigue.

You Need a Pair

If you are looking for a statement loudspeaker, look no further than the Dynaudio Evidence Platinum. After six months of constant listening (and punishing) on an incredibly wide range of musical program material, I can tell you that there is nothing that the Evidence Platinums can’t handle, if you have enough amplifier power on tap.

Along with their musical performance, the Evidence Platinums offer a level of fit and finish that is in keeping with a speaker of this level. They exude luxury and will be an excellent fit for the world’s finest listening rooms, a fact that can’t be overlooked when spending this kind of money. Lastly, Dynaudio is a major player in the speaker industry, so this is a purchase that can be made with confidence, knowing the company will be around to support these speakers.

With so much capability, the Dynaudio Evidence Platinums should be your last speaker purchase.

Dynaudio Evidence Platinum loudspeakers

MSRP: $85,000 per pair

Morel Octave 6 Limited Floorstanding Speakers

Though I knew little about Morel before this review, after listening to its new Octave 6 Limited floorstanding speakers, the company now has my attention. Based in Israel, Morel builds car speakers, in-walls, and various standalone options, as well as its own drivers.  Morel has been a manufacturer of premier drivers for a number of major speaker companies for some time now, however while all of their drivers share core technologies, the ones utilized in their own systems are built from scratch and customized for that individual speaker.  Everything from crossover to the drivers is done in house, except for cabinetry.

The Octave 6 Limited speaker line, which is among Morel’s mid-tier hi-fi offerings and contains some trickle-down technology from the top speakers (mainly the Fat Lady flagship speaker), includes a bookshelf/stand-mounted model, a limited-edition floorstander with larger woofers and voice coil, finished in either black or white lacquer.

Design and Setup

I put the Octave 6 Limited floorstanders through their paces. They utilize a 1.1-inch soft dome tweeter, a 6-inch midrange unit with a 3-inch voice coil, and a single 9-inch side-firing subwoofer with a giagantic 5.1” voice coil and a hybrid carbon fibre/paper cone. All the drivers are covered with protective lotus grille, utilizing a special pattern to minimize reflections and resonance – a special tool is enclosed to carefully remove these grilles for maximum sonic effect. Though they are disparately placed, the drivers display fantastic sonic cohesion.

The box cabinet is modified with some curved edges and includes a rear port. The forward-firing tweeter is molded to the top and set slightly back to ensure proper time alignment with the midrange driver, which is set into a slight bulge extending from the otherwise straight cabinet. These floorstanders are rather small in stature, measuring 38 inches tall, 13.4 inches wide, and 7.3 inches deep; they weigh about 52 lbs each.

A double set of binding posts allow for bi-amping. For those using standard speaker wire, stamped and gold-plated jumpers connect the binding posts. In testing, I found that a set of Jena Labs jumpers sound better than the stock jumpers. The speakers also come with a set of spikes to couple them to the floor.

The binding post and driver placements remind me of the Audio Physic Virgos, which I had for several years. A new pair of the Virgos cost around $7,000, so I found myself very eager to hear what the $7,000 Morels could accomplish. As much as I loved the Virgos, the Octaves prove themselves a better choice for my taste.

After an hour of scooting the Octaves around my listening room—which is 17 feet deep and 20 feet wide, with a 10.5-foot ceiling—I find the ideal placement to be about 4 feet from the front wall with a slight toe-in, thereby twisting the side-firing woofers slightly toward the rear of the room.

Sound and Performance

My reference speakers, the Piega P-10s, are larger than the Octave and in their day, the Piegas cost twice as much as the Octaves, so it’s not a fair comparison, though the Octaves offer some similarities in terms of sonic signature. They reproduce a little less detail and ambience than the Piegas, though they absolutely hold their own, filling the room with wonderful music. The Octaves create the illusion of sitting a few rows back in an auditorium during a live performance. From that perspective, a bit of lost detail is natural.

Morel says the Octave’s frequency response covers the 20-Hz-to-20-kHz range of human hearing and extends to 22 kHz. The speakers offer a high level of neutrality, more so than the Virgos, which have a slightly warm character. Considering the Octaves modest cabinet size, the amount of low-frequency information they portray is impressive. The upper and mid-bass regions remain tuneful, tight, and well defined. Frequency-sweep tracks verify the speakers can produce very low frequencies, though they roll off below 40 Hz in my room, despite experimentation with speaker placement. The Octaves do work magic, but at some point the rules of physics take over. There’s only so much stomach-tingling oomph that a small enclosure can muster.

The Octaves don’t offer the level of bass tangibility I’m accustomed to with my reference speakers. For example, passages on Pitch Black’s “Ape to Angel” leave me longing for more heft. Still, I remain amazed at what the Octaves can produce, given sufficient amplifier power. The touch of low-bass shyness I experience may not be as apparent in a smaller room.

The Octaves do a great job of high-frequency extension without tipping toward an edge of stridency or etch. They deliver plenty of detail while maintaining the music’s natural sound: accurate male and female vocals; cymbals retain their shimmer; saxophones and clarinets are rendered with appropriate woodiness; and on good acoustic guitar recordings, it’s easy to discern the difference between nylon and metal strings.

Soundstage and Dimensionality

The Octave 6 Limited speakers have the ability to cast sound in all directions, while drawing no particular attention to the physical location of the speakers. Music drifts organically and effortlessly between and beyond the speaker boundaries, immersing the listener in sound. Everyone’s listening space provides different benefits and challenges. In my room, the perceived depth of the soundstage behind the speakers is not quite as dramatic as some speakers I have encountered. However, the left, right, and vertical sonic extension rivals that of some of the best speakers I’ve heard in this space.

The Chesky Records test disc illustrates how far the Octaves can extend a sonic image into the room. One track features David Chesky beating a tom drum while walking around an omnidirectional microphone; another utilizes a surround-sound processor to simulate the same activity. In both cases, the Octaves convincingly create the auditory illusion that Chesky is indeed walking a big circle around my listening space. Though my listening chair is against the back wall of my room, it’s as if David Chesky has somehow walked behind me. Many speakers do a good job approximating this illusion, but the Octaves do a fantastic job.

To Each Their Own

The Morel Octave 6 Limited floorstanders are marvelous speakers, especially considering the value they offer at a $7,000 per pair. Across objective audio metrics and subjective musical preferences, the Octaves excel.

Those with large listening rooms, those who crave every ambient nuance of a performance, or those who prefer bass-heavy rock and electronica may want to seek larger and more expensive speakers that can better deliver those characteristics. Those caveats aside, the capability of the Octaves across the audible spectrum is extremely good for speakers in this price range—and their ability to deliver three-dimensional imaging is indeed rare for this price. If that appeals to you, head to your local Morel dealer for a demo.

Morel Octave 6 Limited Floorstanding Speaker

MSRP: $7,000


Speakers Piega P-10
Digital Source Light Harmonic DaVinci DAC Audio Research CD3 Mk 2    HP Quad Core desktop with Windows 7 and JRiver Media Center 19
Analog Source SME 10 with 10 tonearm    Dynavector 17D3 cartridge
Preamplifer Coffman Labs G1-A
Amplifier Mark Levinson No. 335
Cables Jena Labs interconnects and Twin 15 speaker cable
Power Running Springs Audio Haley    RSA/Cardas Mongoose and Golden power cords
Accessories ASC Tube Traps    Cathedral Sound room-dampening panels    Mapleshade Samson racks    Coffman Labs footers

Alta Audio Launches new speakers at NY Audio Show

Alta Audio will be debuting three new speakers at the New York Audio show on Sept 26, and will be having a press meeting in their room (313) at 1:00 PM that day.

They will be featuring the 7’2″ Statement tower, the full range Solo and the compact monitor FRM-2, which we’ve just finished reviewing for issue 66.